PITTSBURGH — Philadelphia Phillies rookie Zach Eflin is trying to establish himself in the majors. Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole already has done that but, now, he's trying to ramp up an injury-interrupted season and regain the dominance he had last year.
The two right-handers match up Friday night in the first game this season between the two in-state teams, and in a series that will feature lots and lots of promising young pitching.
Saturday night, for example, it's 23-year-old Phillies right-hander Aaron Nola (5-8) against a still-to-be-designated Pirates starter, who's all but certain to be 22-year-old rookie right-hander Tyler Glasnow in his second career start.
Sunday, it's 24-year-old Phillies second-year right-hander Vince Velasquez, who's been dominating at times while going 8-2, going against Pirates rookie right-hander Jameson Taillon (2-1), who's been excellent his last two times out while allowing only two runs in 12 innings.
Combined number of major league starts for the five projected starters other than Cole, who's made 86 starts for Pittsburgh? A total of 67 starts.
Cole, of course, was 19-8 last season in leading the Pirates' staff during a 98-win season. But a strained right triceps recently kept him out for a month, and Cole was uneven during his return Saturday, a 6-0 loss in Washington in which he gave up four earned runs in four innings.
“I just didn't execute enough pitches,” Cole said after the game, his third loss — against five wins — in his last 11 starts. “If I made one quality pitch I followed it up with a subpar (pitch). The ball was elevated, especially out of the stretch. I got crushed.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle wouldn't go that far, but he wants to see Cole (5-5) get back to being the pitcher who won five of six decisions from April 21 through May 20.
“He needs to get back here and help us and get involved in the fight with us,” Hurdle said.
The Phillies, losers of four of five after dropping a 9-3 decision to the Miami Marlins on Thursday, aren't fighting for anything much during the second half of the season, but that young pitching staff is one of baseball's most gifted. And Eflin is one of the most intriguing of that group, putting up a 2.56 ERA in six starts since allowing nine runs in his major league debut against Toronto.
Still, Phillies manager Pete Mackanin wanted to see more from Eflin than he did during a 5-0 loss to the New York Mets on Sunday, when the rookie gave up three runs in six innings. He also had Philadelphia's only hit off Jacob deGrom.
“Really, I wasn't comfortable with him,” Mackanin told the Philadelphia Inquirer, and not in a decidedly negative way. “He needs some work on his slider. But, for a 22-year-old kid, you've got to like him. He can throw a four-seamer and a two-seamer and he's got a good change-up. He locates real well and, for 22 years old, you don't see that a lot.”
The fans attending the weekend series at PNC Park will see a wealth of young pitching from both sides as the Phillies become the final NL team to play in Pittsburgh this season.
The Pirates are on something of a roll, winning three of four and 12 of 17 as they contend again in the NL Central.
They got four RBIs from last-minute lineup addition Matt Joyce — who hit a three-run homer in the first, minutes after Starling Marte's illness shoved him into the lineup — in beating the Milwaukee Brewers 5-3 Thursday night behind left-hander Francisco Liriano (6-9), who won for only the second time since May 24.
“He's having a great year, he's crushed some balls,” Liriano said of Joyce, whose ninth homer was his first this season before the seventh inning.